Principles of fundamental fairness govern the student disciplinary system, the purpose of which is to further the educational mission of the University. The University expects all students to adhere to high standards of responsible behavior. In furtherance of this educational mission, when the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) believes that a student has violated the Code of Academic Integrity or the Code of Student Conduct, it attempts to work out a voluntary agreement whereby the student admits to wrongdoing and agrees to individualized sanctions. If OSC and the student can not reach accord, the case goes to a hearing.
Everything that occurs in a disciplinary hearing is governed by the Charter of the University of Pennsylvania Student Disciplinary System.
The Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO), a member of the standing faculty who is appointed by the Provost to serve a two-year term, is responsible for overseeing the procedural integrity and decorum of hearings. The DHO does not deliberate with the Panel and does not have a vote in determining whether the student violated the Code or a voice in determining what, if any, sanctions will be imposed.
Hearing Panels in Academic Integrity cases consist of up to three (3) faculty members and two (2) student members of the University Honor Council or GAPSA. Student Conduct Hearing Panels consist of two (2) faculty members and three (3) students. The hearing is presided over by the DHO. After hearing the evidence, the Panel is charged with determining: (1) whether or not the student did in fact violate the Code of Academic Integrity or the Code of Student Conduct; and, if so, (2) what sanction(s) should be imposed.
The Panel members will select one of their own to be the chair. The chair will moderate the Panels deliberations and coordinate preparation of the written report of the hearing, the conclusions drawn, and, where necessary, the sanctions to be imposed.
The structure of the hearing is as follows:
- DHO Explanation of Process and Introductions
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Charge against the Respondent
- OSC presents a summary of the investigation and evidence
- Presentation of OSC witnesses
- Questions from Complainant (where appropriate), Respondent and Panel
- Presentation of Respondents Case
- Statement by Respondent
- Presentation of Respondent’s witnesses
- Questions from OSC and Panel
- Summary Statements
- By OSC
- By Complainant (where appropriate)
- By Respondent
- Questions from OSC, Respondent, and Complainant (where appropriate) and Panel
- If the respondent is not found responsible, the hearing is adjourned.
- If the respondent is found responsible, the Panel will be given a sealed envelope containing: (1) example of sanctions that have been imposed in similar prior cases; (2) any previous offenses by the Respondent, and then enter into deliberations about sanctions.
- Panel submits to DHO as soon as possible:
- Written summary of decision
- Basis for making the decision
- Findings of fact if respondent found responsible, sanction(s) to be imposed
Admissibility of Evidence
The rules of evidence applicable to legal proceedings do not apply in disciplinary hearings. Information is admissible if relevant, not unduly repetitious, and of the type on which responsible persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs.
The DHO resolves evidentiary issues.
Standard of Proof
The standard for finding that a respondent violated the Code is CLEAR AND CONVINCING PROOF. Criminal convictions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt; verdicts in civil cases are based on a preponderance of the evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is somewhere in between. Think of it on a continuum:
“Preponderance of the evidence” is when it is more likely than not that the alleged incident occurred.
Clear and convincing evidence is when it is highly probable, substantially more likely than not, reasonably certain that the alleged incident occurred. It does not mean that there is not some other possible explanation; it means that the explanation put forth by the University (the OSC) is convincing.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is when it is close to certain that the alleged incident occurred. Based on the evidence, no reasonable person would doubt that the incident occurred.
All decisions of the Panel require a majority, not a unanimous, vote.
In Academic Integrity cases, if the Panel finds that the respondent is responsible for the charges, the Charter stipulates that a formal sanction must be imposed. In Conduct cases, the Charter stipulates that the Panel may or may not impose formal sanctions.
Formal sanctions include:
- Letter of Warning
- Letter of Reprimand – more stern than a warning, the letter states that the Respondents behavior is a serious breach of that expected of University students.
- Probation – for specified period of time which can be for one or more semesters or until graduation.
- Suspension – either imposed or not imposed. An imposed suspension requires that the student leave the school for a specified period of times, generally counted in semesters. A suspension not imposed permits the student to remain at the University and take classes.
- Delayed Diploma/Degree
- Withdrawal from the University
- Expulsion – the student must leave the University and may not return.
- Transcript Notation – refers to the type of disciplinary action the student received which may remain permanent or for a specific period of time on transcript.
To guide the Panel in its determination of appropriate sanctions, OSC will provide information on: (1) any previous offenses by the Respondent; (2) sanctions imposed in similar prior cases.
In addition to formal sanctions, additional educational requirements may be imposed. In some disciplinary cases, the Panel may choose to only impose informal sanctions. Typically they include one or more of the following:
- Apology letter
- Community Service
- Essay on judgment errors made by the Respondent and lessons learned
- Periodic meetings with academic advisor
- Withdrawal of privileges
As an example, a student who willfully destroyed property at a University gym because the desk attendant denied him entry after hours might be sanctioned to probation, restitution, and withdrawal of privileges at the gym, as well as to write a letter of apology to the desk attendant.
Reportability of Sanctions
Any finding that a student has violated the Code of Academic Integrity creates a reportable disciplinary record. In Conduct cases, only the imposition of Probation, Suspension, Expulsion and Delayed Diploma, Withdraw and Transcript Notation create a reportable record. This record is part of the students academic file but is reported only with the students written permission. It generally occurs only in two circumstances: when a student applies to graduate school or is being considered for a position which requires security clearance. This information, released by the Dean of the student’s undergraduate school or in some cases by OSC, is very brief. It might state X has a disciplinary record for plagiarism. He or she was found responsible and placed on disciplinary probation.
The only time a notation of discipline appears on a student’s transcript is when a Hearing Panel so decides. By University policy, a transcript notation is reserved for particularly egregious cases, such as repeated, serious violations of the Code of Academic Integrity or the Code of Student Conduct.
Hearing Panel Report
Whether or not the respondent is found responsible for the charges, the Hearing Panel prepares a report of its findings. All reports must include: (1) a written summary of the decision; (2) the Panel’s basis for making the decision; and (3) findings of fact. Where a respondent is found responsible for the charges, the report must also include (4) the Panels recommended sanctions. To assist with this, the DHO will provide the Panel with examples of reports on similar cases prepared by previous Hearing Panels.